Sheriff’s Office Could Not Rely On MOU Terms For Court Security Services Because They Failed To Comply With The Law

CATEGORY: Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Safety
DATE: Aug 09, 2021

In July 2015, the Alameda County Superior Court (ACSC), the County of Alameda (County), and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff’s Office) entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU).  The MOU covered a three-year period from 2014 to 2017 and confirmed that the County and Sheriff’s Office would provide court security services to ACSC. The MOU stated the terms of the court security services were in Exhibits C-1 and C-3 of the MOU.  Exhibit C-1 described specific and detailed staffing needs for each ACSC location and contained charts identifying precisely how many Sheriff’s Office employees in each classification were required at each court location, amounting to a minimum of 129 court security personnel.  Exhibit C-3 stated the Sheriff’s Office was not required to provide security services in excess of any funding ultimately issued by the State of California (State) to the County for those services.  The Sheriff’s Office reserved the right in Exhibit C-3 to reduce the number of personnel and scope of security services if the State failed to provide sufficient funds.

In 2016, the Sheriff’s Office submitted a request to the State for over $3 million in additional funding for court security services at one of ACSC’s court locations.  In 2017, the State responded by granting the Sheriff’s Office an additional $500,000 per year for court security services.  Thereafter, the Sheriff’s Office informed ACSC that court security staffing would be reduced from 129 to 114 personnel due to the shortfall in funding from the State.  The Sheriff’s Office and the County also recommended that ACSC alter court operations so that ACSC would need fewer security personnel.

In October 2019, ACSC filed a petition for a writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief against the County and Sheriff’s Office, alleging that the County had a duty to provide and pay for 129 court security personnel even if the State’s funding did not cover the cost of doing so until the parties entered into a new MOU. The County and Sheriff’s Office alleged that Exhibit C-3 of the MOU permitted the Sheriff’s Office to reduce staffing depending on the funding provided by the State.

The trial court denied ACSC’s writ petition and entered judgment for the County and Sheriff’s Office, finding that there was nothing in Exhibit C-3 to suggest that the parties intended for the Sheriff’s Office to be obligated to provide a minimum of 129 security personnel if the funding provided by the State was not sufficient. ACSC appealed, arguing that the County and Sheriff’s Office were bound to provide the level of court security services set forth in Exhibit C-1 because Exhibit C-3 did not contain a “mutually agreed upon” list of the court security services that the Sheriff’s Office was obligated to provide to ACSC. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the trial court’s decision.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that superior courts must “contract, subject to available funding, with a sheriff or martial, for the necessary level of law enforcement services in the courts.”  The Court then examined Government Code Section 69926, which requires a court security MOU to specify “an agreed-upon level of court security services” in order to remain in effect after the MOU expired and until the parties agree on a new MOU.  The Court of Appeal held that because Exhibit C-3 did not identify any “agreed-upon level of court security services,” and instead allowed the Sheriff’s Office to unilaterally reduce services to whatever amount could be supported by the funding provided to the State, it did not comply with Section 69926.  By contrast, Exhibit C-1 expressly identified a minimum level of court security services of 129 personnel.

The County argued that Exhibit C-3 was not required to specify an agreed-upon level of court security services because that information was provided elsewhere in the MOU, and specifically in Exhibit C-1. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that Section 69926 states that MOU provisions will only remain in effect after the MOU expires if they specify an agreed-upon level of court security services, which Exhibit C-3 did not do. The Court stated that its holding aligned with the public policy of ensuring that courts have adequate and dependable security services.

The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment for the County and Sheriff’s Office and remanded the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings regarding the affirmative defenses raised by the County and the Sheriff’s Office.

Superior Court of Alameda County v. County of Alameda, 65 Cal.App.5th 838 (2021).


The Court of Appeal noted that the law regarding the security services a county or sheriff’s department provides to the courts is explicit as to what happens after the MOU expires. Any MOU provision contrary to the law was unenforceable after the MOU expired. 

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